Will Merrick Garland Save Obama’s Climate Legacy?

The Supreme Court nominee has a good reputation with environmental law scholars.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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On Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama announced he will nominate Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, on the Supreme Court.

Garland, who is currently chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, has an excruciating path to confirmation. He faces entrenched opposition from Senate Republicans, who have vowed to block anyone Obama appoints to the seat. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer put it, “Garland is a political sacrificial lamb for the White House.”

But if Garland is somehow confirmed, one of his first big cases he could determine the fate of Obama’s signature climate change policy.

“In terms of looking for someone who would give a fair hearing [to the Clean Power Plan], he’s a big shift from Scalia,” one environmental law scholar said.

Shortly before Scalia’s death, SCOTUS placed a hold on the Clean Power Plan—a regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency that aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants—while lower courts rule on its legality. The plan is being challenged by two dozen coal-reliant states and will likely wind up before the Supreme Court sometime next year.

Garland’s record should offer some optimism for environmentalists who are hopeful the Court will uphold the Clean Power Plan. According to SCOTUSblog, Garland has a history of taking the green side of regulatory disputes: “Judge Garland has in a number of cases favored contested EPA regulations and actions when challenged by industry, and in other cases he has accepted challenges brought by environmental groups.” In other words, Garland has often stood by the EPA when its rules were challenged by industry groups, and stood by environmentalists when they thought EPA actions hadn’t been strong enough.

Richard Lazarus, an environmental law scholar at Harvard University, said that Garland is highly respected in the environmental law community.

“No one would say Garland is a hardened environmentalist,” he said. Still, “we think we’ll get a straight shot from him. He doesn’t come with any inherent skepticism about the federal government overreaching [on environmental regulation]. In terms of looking for someone who would give a fair hearing [to the Clean Power Plan], he’s a big shift from Scalia.”

We’ll be digging into Garland’s environmental record more as his confirmation moves forward (or doesn’t); stay tuned.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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